I come from a family who sings. When my brother and I were young, Dad would play the guitar and he and Mom would teach us folk songs and hymns. Then, when I was 12, I received a guitar for Christmas which prompted my own musical journey, beginning with a halted, messy version of Home, Home on the Range and ending, many years later, with public singing despite suffering from nervousness. However, I know other folks who have no trouble with anxiety at all.
My Uncle Don wasn’t nervous. He carried his guitar with him wherever he travelled and was always ready for an impromptu tune. Once, for a ten per cent discount on spectacles, he even entertained the owner and patrons of his optician’s office.
Justin, my son, doesn’t get anxious either. He’s a fine musician that can play for people anytime, anywhere, although I recall his first attempts to render a violin tune were accomplished out of sight and round a corner where none could look upon his face.
A teenage cousin of mine was not nervous to play for others, mere moments after picking up a guitar for the first time! At a long ago family event he noisily plunked away on it, to the dismay of all those around him, and felt he might just be a natural born musician.
“What do you think?” he asked my Uncle Dick, finishing with a final, deafening TWANG.
“Do you want the bitter truth or a plausible lie?” Uncle asked.
My friend Shannon sings at various events too, but she recently admitted to feeling deep anxiety beforehand, like me. Of course, she also admitted to indulging in a little liquid courage behind the scenes.
“A couple of quick shooters does the trick,” she told me with a smile. In desperation, this method has crossed my mind too, but since at least half of my singing gigs took place with my Uncle Don, who was an Alcoholics Anonymous member for 40 years, the whole idea fell pretty flat.
Mostly, I fix my gaze on a spot across the hall, well above the audience. Then I try pretending I’m somewhere else, such as in my garden thinning radishes, washing endless dishes or maybe petting a cat. Those are calming thoughts.
Once, my pal Jeanette and I were asked to sing for a large ladies meeting (the meeting was large, not the ladies). Anyway, the song they requested was one I didn’t know. Yikes! What was I going to do? Lip-syncing is all very well if you’re singing with a group and can blend in with the throng, but when there’s only two of you? Not good.
Just before we were called on-stage I found a pen and hurriedly wrote the lyrics down my arm, across my hand and around my thumb and forefinger. I was petrified, but the show had to go on. I held the microphone with that hand and feverishly scanned for the correct lines as we went along. There was one awkward moment when I got sidetracked by a passing dessert tray, and belted out what it said on my finger when it should have been the words from my elbow, but it all worked out in the end.
Is there a knack to avoiding nervousness in tense situations? Maybe. Some seem to find it. As for me, guess I’ll stick to staring at the ceiling and petting the cat.